Volunteer call to help friends in need

Service user Douglas and volunteer Harry take a trip to the Tall Ship.
Service user Douglas and volunteer Harry take a trip to the Tall Ship.

NEWTON Mearns man Harry Ewing is backing a new campaign by the National Autistic Society Scotland which pairs individual volunteers with service users in search of a friend.

The organisation credits the 65-year-old with allowing service user Douglas Herbertson (54) to ‘learn how to laugh again’, thanks to the NAS Person to Person project launched last month.

The project aims to tackle the loneliness and isolation often experienced by older people on the autism spectrum.

Glasgow city council worker Douglas explained: “I often felt very lonely until I met Harry. I wanted some company and friendship, but I wasn’t sure where to start.

“Meeting Harry has made a big difference.We visit museums and go shopping together, and sometimes we visit Govan and chat about the history of the Clydeside.

“But one of the best things has to be having a laugh and a joke with Harry.

“It felt like such a long time since I’d had a friend to laugh with; it’s almost learning how to do it all over again.”

NAS Scotland is calling on Greater Glasgow residents like Harry, aged 30 or over, to volunteer for Person to Person.

Gillian McCarthy, who runs the project, said: “When the current generation of senior citizens were children, little was known about autism.

“As a result, thousands of older people with the condition in Scotland became an ‘invisible generation’ whose autism was often misunderstood and misdiagnosed by the health professionals meant to help them.

“Although some older people with autism are diagnosed with autism in later life and can start to access the right support, often they will have struggled alone with this lifelong, disabling condition for decades.

“But it doesn’t have to be like this. Many older people with autism have so much to offer, and they’re just looking for the kind of peer group friendships many of us take for granted.”

Volunteer Harry, now retired, added: “When we first met, Douglas was very shy and struggled to make eye contact. He also finds it hard to have confidence in his own decisions. But I could see he was a nice person who needed a friend.

“I discovered Douglas is an intelligent, interesting man, and there are lots of things he would like to do, he just needed someone to say, ‘Take your time. Have a think and if it feels right, go for it’.

“Things are progressing so well that these days Douglas takes the initiative, phones me on Sundays and we plan our next outing.”

He added: “People can live very busy lives. But to anybody thinking of making someone’s life a little better by being a Person to Person volunteer, I would say: if you can, do it. It’s a wonderful experience.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, or you know someone who could benefit from the service, contact Gillian McCarthy on 07768885275 or gillian.mccarthy@nas.org.uk.